When rubber meets the road, couple takes sustainability seriously

By Jackie Nelson

HESSTON—Since 2018, Nathan Troyer and Acacia Renee have called a Bluebird school bus in Hesston their home. Troyer and Renee are now on a 10-day rolling journey to a new location for their home in Washington State on property owned by Renee’s mother.

“The desire had been building in me for about four years before I bought the bus—since I first learned about tiny homes. There was a romanticism of building it myself from scratch,” Troyer said.

Troyer said he initially planned to build a more traditional tiny home on a trailer platform.

“The reason I went with the bus was because it provided immediate shelter and my apartment rental agreement was up,” he said.

“He thought about buying a boat,” Renee added.

“If I had two more grand, I would have had a boat, and I wouldn’t have come back to Kansas,” Troyer said.

However, after a decade-long absence, Troyer returned to spend time with his family, particularly his grandparents.

Troyer, who converted the bus into a home, purchased the vehicle in October of 2017 while living in Olympia, Wa.

“It still had seats. The only thing it didn’t have was the stop signs and the flasher lights. The district took those off before they sold it to the guy I bought it from,” Troyer said.

With his apartment lease quickly waning, Troyer moved fast on converting the bus.

“I was tearing out the seats, which unfortunately was right when I was having to get my stuff moved out of the apartment. I wish I had been able to save at least two of them,” he said.

With many sleepless nights of work and “a lot of bruised knuckles,” Troyer pulled up the flooring, the sub-flooring, “which was just disgusting,” repaired rust holes, and then laid down new sub-flooring, insulation and the final flooring. He installed a full kitchen, dining table, couch, bed, refurbished existing lighting and installed banks of batteries.

Over the course of renovating the bus and living in it, Troyer also had to find a place to park the vehicle, which was no small feat, bouncing between friends’ properties, parking lots and rented driveway spaces—one to the tune of $500 per month with no utility hookups. Troyer continued to work on converting the bus into a fully functional home.

While still searching for a more permanent location, Troyer and Renee rekindled their relationship.

“I knew Nathan three years before we started dating. Then he grew a beard, got suspenders and bought a school bus,” Renee said.

After a stint of long-distance dating, Renee moved to Kansas to join Troyer and his dog Rico in their sub-200-square-foot home.

“We got married after just a year of dating, which I think is pretty quick. But if you can live with someone in 150 square feet without running water…” Renee said.

Driven by her passion for sustainability, Renee said small living has worked for her.

“I feel like we found a lot of work-arounds,” she said.

From battery-powered blenders and curling irons to a solar-powered refrigerator and small soaking tub, “I want to be fancy off-grid. I want a 12-volt hair straightener,” Renee said.

Troyer has a penchant for minimalism.

“The lack of stuff in your life,” he said. “We still need to sort through and get rid of a fair amount of stuff, but not having to fill our lives with the daily accumulation of the useless or unneeded has been tremendous for me.”

Beyond environmental sustainability, the couple said their lifestyle is also financially sustainable.

“We are virtually debt-free. I have a $6,000 student loan and no credit cards,” Renee said.

She said the only household bills are cell phones, car insurance and minimal electricity.

Now, as they are expecting their first child, Renee said she plans to continue non-traditional living, planning for a hanging cradle and child seat. The couple said they plan on living in the Bluebird for at least another year.

Even if their current living situation does change, “I want to keep it awkward—a yurt, a treehouse, container home. If we want more space, neither of us want to live in a traditional house. We like the idea of taking what’s discarded and no longer usable and turning it into something. Living a little differently keeps us conscious of what we are using and how we use it,” Renee said.

The Bluebird bus that has been home for Acacia Renee and Nathan Troyer has all the comforts of a home, including a small tub, solar refrigerator and freezer and a well-stocked kitchen and pantry.